Question: If a practicing Catholic marries a non-Catholic in a civil marriage ceremony, is that considered a valid marriage in the eyes of the Church? If a couple who is Catholic and non-Catholic marries without a religious ceremony and lives together, is the Catholic partner committing a mortal sin if they receive Communion?
Answer: Continuing from the previous issue, part II of our answer concerns who is referred to when speaking of someone “non-Catholic”?
“Non-Catholics” could include baptized non-Catholic Christians, such as members of the Lutheran, Episcopalian or many various Protestant denominations, as well as members of Orthodox Churches. They all have in common valid, sacramental Baptism. So the “non-Catholic” in question may be any one of these baptized Christians.
A Catholic who marries a non-Catholic Christian may petition the Bishop, through their parish priest or deacon, for a “Dispensation from Canonical Form,” that is, a dispensation from the required and ordinary Catholic form for marriage.
If the dispensation is granted, for “just causes,” then – even if (for some reason) the marriage takes place only before a civil magistrate, the marriage is considered valid according to the Church. It is the dispensation from the “form” that enables the Catholic party to enter into marriage in some other public forum.
If the “non-Catholic” is a baptized Christian, the marriage between the Catholic and the non-Catholic Christian is, by the fact of them both being validly baptized, also a “sacramental” marriage, even if it takes place in a non-religious ceremony.
It is the fact of both parties being baptized that makes their marriage a sacrament if the Catholic form is followed or the Catholic party is dispensed from the form.
“Non-Catholics” may also refer to persons who are unbaptized, such as Jewish people, Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, etc.
The same as above applies: the Catholic party, for a just cause, may petition his/her Bishop for a dispensation from canonical form. If the dispensation is granted, the marriage may take place in some other public forum.
The marriage would be considered “valid” according to the Catholic Church. However, because the other party is not baptized, the valid marriage is a “natural one,” not a sacramental marriage. Matrimony, as a sacrament, can only take place between a baptized man and a baptized woman.
The dispensation from canonical form is obtained through the Catholic party’s parish priest or deacon. Before the dispensation is granted, it is ordinarily required that the couple completes the requirements for Catholic marriage preparation.
In fact, it is through Catholic marriage preparation that the situations that can arise between Catholic parties and non-Catholic parties are discussed and resolutions are sought, including the forum where the wedding will take place.
Through marriage preparation, the situations can be identified and resolved, as in seeking and obtaining a dispensation from canonical form.
Any couple that has a question about the validity of their marriage is encouraged to contact their local priest, who will be happy to assist in this matter.